“Finally, one extreme statement must still be made, without any platitudes, and in all soberness. Not considering oneself wise, but associating with the lowly, means considering oneself the worst of sinners…There can be genuine knowledge of sin that does not lead me down to this depth. If my sin appears to me to be in any way smaller or less reprehensible in comparison with the sins of others, then I am not yet recognizing my sin at all…Those who would serve others in the community must descend all the way down to this depth of humility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 74.
The above passage is the way of liberation and of service. It liberates us from the pitfalls that Bonhoeffer describes in this chapter; the danger of pride, of not preferring my brother above myself, of not honoring my brother, of seeking to control others, of attempting to create others in the image of what I think they should be, of living in self-justification. The above passage liberates us to serve others in humility – the comparison we make in our service is to think, “Well, whatever my brother may be dealing with, I have descended far below him, I am the worst of sinners. I shall freely serve him.”
Yet there is another comparison that enables the above comparison, and that is to behold our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy Lamb of God, without spot or stain or sin or any such thing. When I behold Him in His purity, bearing my sins and myself on the Cross – then I am overwhelmed with a comparison that breaks my heart and shuts my self-justifying mouth, and I am stripped of pretension and self-justification – I am indeed the worst of sinners and I know that outside of Jesus Christ that I am capable of anything and everything…and I know that I would be a fool to think otherwise.
Yes, in Jesus Christ I am a saint, as is my brother; but oh let there be no mistake about who I was and who I would be outside of Jesus Christ – let me not be a pretentious fool and a blasphemer and presume to assume my own righteousness and justification and glory and thereby distance myself from the Cross.
Furthermore, let me not trivialize sin by making it something less than it is, let me not excuse sin in my life as “just one of those things” or “that’s just the way I am.” While I am called to cover my brother’s sin as a member of the priesthood of believers, I must confess my sin to Jesus Christ and seek His mercy and grace – I painfully rejoice when the Holy Spirit and the Word of God reveal sin in my life and I throw myself on the Christ of the Cross. Let there never be any question as to who in all of human history is the worst of sinners – it is Bob Withers.
Now that I am free from myself by the Cross of Christ I can serve others; I must serve others. I have been freed from slavery not to be my own person, but to be the bondservant of Another, and through Him to be the servant of all. If Christ died for all then how can I not serve all? Paul wrote of the debt he had to all, to all ethnic groups, to the wise and to the unwise (Romans 1:14).
When, at the foot of the Cross, I know that I am the worst of sinners I am liberated from trying to be something I am not; I am liberated from the works of the Law, I am liberated from the religious traditions and expectations of man, I am liberated from hypocrisy – from wearing a religious mask. I am also liberated to serve others through love (Galatians 5:1, 13) as I learn to live in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25 – 26).
Now that the fact is settled that I am the worst of sinners, who can I find to serve today?